SCRAM: Drink and Go to Jail; Resist and Start a New Life

An alcohol detection anklet that’s been around for only a few years has this year been finally adopted by courts in 48 of our 50 states as a tool for remotely monitoring released offenders who are not a community threat when sober. As little as five years ago, only 19 states had approved this electronic device. In addition to providing an alternative to jail for first-time DUI offenders in some cities, like Indianapolis, the device has been shown to be especially effective in supporting reentry programs and cutting recidivism rates, as well as deterring other new criminal acts by the wearers. It’s been shown to help reduce corrections systems overcrowding and budgetary woes. And it lets courts and probation officers focus attention on other offenders who need help most.

Simply put, the anklet makes it difficult for released offenders to drink alcohol without getting caught. Called SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), the device encircles the wearer’s ankle and “captures transdermal alcohol readings by sampling the insensible perspiration collected from the air above the skin” twice each hour. It stores that data, and at predetermined intervals transmits it via wireless signals to a modem. From the modem, the data flows over a phone line to a central recording station where experts read the results, and report accordingly as required to the judicial system. The data thus collected has been ruled admissible in evidentiary hearings and court cases across the country.
While clearly designed to help the thousands of courts and agencies using them to better perform their assigned tasks, SCRAM also is a boon to those offenders wearing one. It provides a bridge to help them reenter the community. It allows offenders to maintain family obligations, hold jobs and contribute positively to society. It helps them create an awareness of the magnitude of their problem, and is a strong deterrent. For example, the city of Denver, CO has found that fewer than 3% of DUI offenders drink while being monitored. If they continue this behavior for 180 days, they get their driver’s license reinstated.

There’s one drawback for most offenders though. In most state jurisdictions, the offender pays for his or her own monitoring, when able. For example, in Tarrant County, TX, offenders pay on a slidng scale, depending on several factors, such as the number of family members. An employed offender pays whatever they earn in one hour as their daily cost. If they’re unemployed, they pay nothing. In Hancock County, IN they pay a flat $7 daily. This burden, however, is what enables the various entities employing them to do so, as their budgets could not cope otherwise. Without offender-pay, offenders might not ever attain any of the benefits that SCRAM makes possible.

In the past few months, there’s been a flurry of SCRAM-related news in print, on television and even over the radio. But if you want a first-hand look at the full picture, click on the Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. website.

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